I was reading an article the other day about companies that are successful because of the humility that their leaders possess. The leaders, it stated, were a complex, paradoxical mix of intense professional will and extreme personal humility. How refreshing! It gets tiresome having to listen to or watch the actions of some who act as if they’re bigger than life. They’re what we’d call ‘legends in their own mind.’
I had the pleasure of chatting with Herm Kovits the other day and although you can clearly tell that he’s a giving, intelligent, kind-hearted and very successful individual, he’s also a very virtuous man and this, above all things, makes him worth his weight in gold.
Herm’s parents immigrated to Canada from Austria in an attempt to make a better life for themselves. “They were basically poor but they were hard workers who knew farming well since their families had farmed the land over in Austria for 500 years,” he said. They met in Canada and married soon thereafter and began working on a farm in Saskatchewan, near Lloydminster.
As it turned out, the farmer that they worked for owned property in Prince George and they were encouraged to relocate to the northern community to farm the land. “They packed up the family and we moved but when we arrived in Prince George it was quite clear to my dad that the property could not be farmed and he became a logger instead,” he said.
After logging for awhile, Herm’s father became a good friend of a master carpenter who offered him a job. “Dad was a very hard-working, intelligent man and over time be became a very good carpenter and ended up doing it for the rest of his life,” he said.
Herm was the eldest of four boys and growing up in Prince George was always an adventure. “We lived on the banks of the Nechako River, where it joins the Fraser and one spring my brother and I nearly drowned. Water seems to attract boys and one thing led to another and we almost died,” he smiled. Herm was very active in sports and played baseball, soccer, badminton and basketball. The boys also learned the meaning of hard work. “We grew gardens so we learned how to hoe and we also had chickens, pigs and cows and had to take care of them,” he said.
While still in school, he worked on Saturdays for a small grocery outfit and being that he was quite discerning and rather intelligent, he quickly learned the retail and wholesale aspects of the grocery industry. After graduating from high school, he was offered a job as manager of one of the grocery stores but decided that he needed to ride the rails as a way of discovering Canada. “I travelled by train from Prince George to Montreal and certainly saw a lot.”
Herm had resolved, through this time, that he wanted to be his own boss; he liked science, he liked people and he liked to help others. “I knew that I didn’t want to become a medical doctor because I didn’t want to be on call 24/7. I looked into optometry but there weren’t many schools back then so I decided on dentistry,” he said. He earned his science degree from UBC before joining the Faculty of Dentistry at McGill University.
While he was at UBC, Herm got involved in rowing, where he earned great success. His team competed extensively and were regular winners. “We took a gold medal at the 1954 Commonwealth Games and my team members, along with a couple of others, went on to receive gold and silver medals at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. They were also successful at the 1958 British Empire Games and the 1960 Olympic Games,” he said, proudly. Herm is also a top, fastball athlete and for all of his dedication and success in the world of sport, he has been named to the UBC Sports Hall of Fame, the BC Sports Hall of Fame and the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame.
While studying at McGill University, he met the love of his life, Brenda. She not only became his best friend but also his wife. “After graduating, we came back to BC. Back then, you could set up practice anywhere and I had anticipated doing so in Prince George because they needed dentists up there quite badly. However, I came out to the Valley with a dental sales rep and our final stop was in Chilliwack. Here, I had the pleasure of meeting Jack Barber’s widow. Jack was a dentist who had passed away and she told me that she was selling his practice. I bought it and we’ve been here ever since,” he explained methodically.
Herm was a credit to his profession. Not only was he an accomplished dentist but after awhile, he resolved to get into Interceptive Orthodontics. “This was in the 60s when the closest orthodontists were in New West. I wanted to help people and I knew that most of the people that needed the work weren’t going to drive into New West. The highway wasn’t what it is today, you know. I started taking a lot of courses in the fundamentals of orthodontics and I found this work very satisfying.”
In 1991, after 34 years of practicing dentistry, Herm decided to retire. “I retired early because my wonderful wife and best friend developed breast cancer and I knew what I had to do. I count my blessings every day. We are both healthy and we enjoy travelling all over the world. My family is and has always been so very important to me. I was very involved with my children when they were growing up and even coached minor baseball and soccer. Now, we have terrific grandchildren and I’m so proud of all of them. My granddaughter is going into medicine and another grandchild is in engineering,” he said, evidently moved.
While Herm was quite involved with dental industry associations, including the Chilliwack Dental Society, the Fraser Valley Dental Society and was a representative of the Fraser Valley College of Dental Surgeons for four years, he shied away from other groups in an effort to dedicate any other free time to his family. Once they had grown and especially now that he is retired, he remains an active member of the Chilliwack Rotary Club and is a founding board member and past chair of the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve Society, amongst others.